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SEL on the Play Yard

Social Emotional Learning On The Playground

RHS is creating a place for every child on the play yard to feel included, be active, and build social and emotional skills.

The play yard is an essential and flexible learning space at RHS where we can help children to build a culture of play that is rooted in mutual respect and our school rules: Taking care of ourselves, each other, and our school.

RHS collaborated with Playworks -- the leading national nonprofit leveraging the power of play to transform children's social and emotional health; to create its ongoing recess program. Recess plays an important role in the elementary school day, contributing to physical activity among children, as well as improved student outcomes, including attendance and achievement. A high quality recess program can help students feel more engaged, safer and positive about the school day, according to Stanford research.

Impacts of this approach include:

  • Reduced bullying and more focus on learning
  • Enhanced feelings of safety at school
  • Increased vigorous physical activity during recess
  • More readiness for class (better concentration)
  • More time for classroom teaching

Every child deserves the opportunity for safe, inclusive and meaningful play!

A Message from the RHS Play Yard Coach, Zoe Cronin:

Two of our ongoing goals on the RHS playground are to enable students to initiate play and negotiate disagreements independently.

To support kids in starting games by themselves, we've established several core games with consistent rules (3-lines basketball, knockout, 4-square, 2-touch) that are available every day. Many of the regular players know exactly what equipment to get, how to line up, and expectations of game play. With some guidance, these players become fabulous leaders who are able to recruit and teach new players. Additionally, we have several games that we rotate between each week (kick-basketball, 5-lines soccer, kickball) to offer variety and bring together new groups of kids. Each game has a different  cohort of students that love it and look forward to it, and, again with guidance, these players become leaders and teachers for the other students.

Negotiating disagreements with patience and love is a tall order for adults, let alone elementary school kids, but we've established some key practices that set them up for success. Dividing teams for big group games is always a sticky spot--team captains can leave people feeling devalued, adults aren't always available to split kids up, and no matter the method it seems the losing team is convinced that the teams were "unfairly" divided from the start.

With a little trial and error, we've landed on a somewhat randomized method of partnering up with someone to play Ro Sham Bo. The winners of Ro Sham Bo are on one team and the losers on the other. And happily enough, in this circumstance, the word "loser" is not a shameful label, but rather an expected source of team pride. The Ro Sham Bo "loser" team often places their fingers in an "L" shape on their forehead at the beginning of the game as a sign of solidarity with one another. This extraordinary phenomenon is indicative of a larger change in playground culture. Losing is okay! And winning is okay.

Unfairness in ability level is inevitable. There are no value judgments during recess. Ultimately, we all want to play and have as much fun as possible. So, together we are learning that you can kick the highest, fastest, farthest kick in kickball, someone can catch it and get you out, and you can still be proud of that amazing kick. You can run back to home base and get high fives from your teammates and be excited for the other team for making such an incredible out.

We've been learning similar lessons in smaller group games like 4-square and 2-touch. Disagreements are unavoidable--one student knows that the ball hit the line and the other swears it didn't. Well, disagreeing is okay! But it's easy to get caught up in being right and lose sight of the fact that arguing about it takes up play time and creates lots of furrowed brows and negativity. So, we're slowly learning to shake off the small stuff, play Ro Sham Bo if we disagree, and get on with the game.

All of the social emotional learning on the playground has a consistent underlying message--that first and foremost we need to value ourselves and each other in order to create a safe, inclusive, and fun environment. If you're getting angry playing a game, go take a break! You don't have anything to prove to anyone. If you find yourself yelling at a teammate for getting out, take a step back and think how you could encourage them instead. And if you find yourself getting yelled at, you can laugh it off, because you know you are more important than a score. We can all work together to disrupt the spirals of negativity and ensure that we are boosting each other up whenever we can.